Sunday, June 10, 2012

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Thor is a joke. Who in their right minds would believe that a blonde muscular caped Scandinavian would possess super strength, the power of flight and run amok whenever the sound of battle filled the air with a big old hammer? It's funny to say that he's the odd one out, because the whole lot of underpants and Lycra-clad superpower boys don't fit in. Not fitting in is a universal theme when it comes to being a superhero... even if you can swat cars and see through walls.

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Well, Thor - the movie changed that. Just like Iron Man, there wasn't all that much to go on. Compared to the worldwide renown of Batman, Spider-Man and Superman, Thor's Norse mythology and comic book history was a mystery for most movie goers. Yet, the creators of Iron Man have done it again... taking a "supporting" superhero character and giving them an opportunity to shine. No longer is Thor a construction site oaf with an over-sized hammer... he's an arrogant, albeit powerful Norse god and defender of Earth. Getting geeky has never been this cool and who better to show us the ropes than Thor.

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Director and renowned actor, Kenneth Branagh has been at the helm of this production. A childhood fan, Branagh has also developed an affiliation with Shakespeare for his many acclaimed performances both on film and stage. Some would have questioned the decision for him to direct - forgetting he directed Frankenstein, but what a wonderful match with the theatrical director able to convey the comic book Norse mythology with many parallels from Shakespeare's Henry V in our hero's quest.

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To help Branagh get there, Chris Hemsworth plays Thor. Hemsworth wasn't first choice... with Daniel Craig and Brad Pitt rumoured for the role, eventually edging out his own brother, Liam for first prize. The Australian actor has cemented himself in Hollywood with this starring role. Not only will he be headhunted for more leading action man roles, but has secured a number of follow-up performances as Thor in movies like The Avengers with possible sequels in the pipeline.

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Hemsworth is supported by two Hollywood heavyweights in Anthony Hopkins as Odin (think back to Titus) and Natalie Portman as Jane Foster, both Oscar winners. Then Stellan Skarsgard adds some Scandinavian credibility to the mythology, Kat Dennings brings her gorgeous geek factor with Colm Feore and Idris Elba working hard in the "background". While they adequately convey their characters, it's Tom Hiddleston who rises to the top with his complex portrayal of Loki - the primary villain and brother of Thor.

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It's a solid ensemble effort, which translates into convincing drama between all the action-adventure. The same caliber of special effects has been installed in this superhero actioner. Fantastic tie-ins with Iron Man, remind us of the extent of Marvel's universe with Clark Gregg weaving the character of Agent Coulson between each film. Ice giants, destroyers, flying hammers and a wave of destruction between the palace of Asgard and a small desert town are convincing and breathtaking in 3D. Some of the long shots are a bit iffy as horse riders gallop amongst the stars and beams of light cross deep space, but are quickly smoothed over.

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The story based on Henry V works with two worlds being laced together for a smooth transition from high fantasy to dusty reality. This was possibly the greatest challenge, yet the translation allows our heroes to move between the two without any alarm bells going off. The film-makers have also realised the importance of comedy in winning the audience over and allowing them to just go with it. Having medieval Norse warriors walking amongst earthlings... getting Thor accustomed to real world stuff... there's great comedy in that, which is handled quite deftly by Branagh.

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This is a first-rate popcorn blockbuster. The performances are solid, the production values are high, the story is intriguing in a Shakespearean atmosphere, the pacing is good, the special effects are top-notch and the entertainment value is literally out-of-this-world. Thor is surprisingly good, much like Iron Man surprised everyone, and the 3D technology just adds to the occasion. This is an enjoyable and rewatchable effort, not quite as classy or pinpoint amazing as Iron Man... yet full tilt exhilarating anyway. Be sure to catch the "connective tissue" scene with Samuel L. Jackson post credits.

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